What is it about poker that excites you? For most players, it boils down to two things: winning and money. Once you get good enough at the game, poker supplies ample amounts of both.
But as with just about everything in life, there’s a dilemma in poker that’s keeping us in check. Winning is relatively easy at the lower stakes, and considerably more difficult as you move up.
Not a problem. If you’re an advanced player, you already know how to beat the micro-stakes – that’s cash games up to and including 5c/10c blinds. And since you know what you’re doing, you’re probably playing these games only for practice, or for fun. This is no place to be building a bankroll.
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That’s true for the rest of us as well. But if you’re a beginner or even an intermediate player, the micro-stakes should be where you do most of your cash poker.
Don’t go chasing that big money until you’ve worked out the kinks in your game; the following tips will help you maximize your gains and minimize your losses while you’re learning the ropes.
ABC, Easy As 1-2-3
According to some of the gurus out there, if you’re serious about learning poker, you should start by developing a solid Game-Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy, one that balances “value bets” and “bluffs” and makes it as difficult as possible for your opponents to exploit you.
Only once you’ve got this figured out should you start exploiting your opponents – always starting from the margins, then exploiting more and more as your opponents expose their weaknesses.
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There is a lot of merit to that approach. The problem with playing GTO poker at the micro-stakes is that most of your opponents aren’t good enough for it.
Your bluffs may be balanced in theory, but your opponents are going to call you down a lot more at these stakes. You’ll also run into plenty of maniacs who are betting with complete junk; if you balance your own calling range, you’re leaving money on the table. A small amount of money, yes, but money nonetheless.
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The way around this is to play ABC poker instead of GTO. A simplified approach that emphasizes betting for value will help you get the most out of the micro-stakes.
The skills you develop playing ABC will carry forward into the higher levels, so you’re not really learning anything you’ll need to unlearn later on when it’s GTO time. Plus, those small, frequent wins will keep you happy and fuel your desire to keep learning and keep improving.
Rake’s In Effect
The other big thing to consider when you’re playing the micro-stakes is the increased rake you have to pay. Online poker rooms take a certain percentage of every pot that goes to the flop (usually capped at a certain amount) as a fee for their services.
At stakes like $1/$2, online poker rooms might be taking the equivalent of five big blinds per 100 hands; at the micro-stakes, it’s more like 10bb.
Again, not a problem. The micro-stakes are easy enough that you can be a winning player even with the increased rake.
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To maximize your returns, avoid paying that rake where possible by adjusting your pre-flop strategy so you don’t see as many flops. For example, if you’ve been limping in from the small blind, raise or fold instead, and be more likely to 3-bet or fold from any position instead of call.
Learning to be selective like this will help you boss the micro-stakes right now, and it will help you down the road, too. Here’s the thing about GTO poker that not everyone will tell you: Maximally exploitive poker is GTO.
Use the micro-stakes to build your ABC game, then learn how to exploit all those opponents out there making all those big mistakes. You won’t find as many of them as you move up the ladder, but they exist, and those are always the players you should be targeting first. Good hunting.